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Nitrogen Cycle Activities & Games

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

When students learn about environmental cycles, it's important that they study the nitrogen cycle. Use these activities and games to help your class understand the cycle, its parts and processes, and its importance.

Needed Nitrogen

When students are eating a salad or walking in the woods, they're probably not thinking about how without the nitrogen cycle plants wouldn't exist…and neither would they! As students learn about how nitrogen moves among animals, plants, bacteria, the atmosphere, and soil, they can see how the cycle affects all living things. Let's look at some activities and games to help students understand the nitrogen cycle and its importance.

Diagram of nitrogen cycle
diagram

Chart It Out

Have students use their artistic talents to create a diagram of the nitrogen cycle.

Materials

  • Diagram of nitrogen cycle
  • Poster board
  • Art supplies (pencils, colored pencils, markers)

Teacher Directions

  1. Show the class the diagram of the nitrogen cycle. Discuss the various processes of the cycle and the importance of the nitrogen cycle to living things.
  2. Divide the class into pairs, and provide each pair with poster board and art supplies.
  3. Have the pairs create posters showing the nitrogen cycle. Encourage students to use pictures that help them remember the key processes and terms associated with the cycle. For example, they could draw plants sipping out of drinking straws to symbolize the process of assimilation because plants absorb nitrates through their roots.
  4. When the pairs are finished, have them share their posters with the class.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is the nitrogen cycle important to all living things?
  • What are the main processes that are involved in the nitrogen cycle? What happens during each process?

Guess the Picture

Use this drawing game to help students guess important vocabulary words and processes associated with the nitrogen cycle.

Materials

  • Diagram of nitrogen cycle
  • Sticky notes
  • Sets of cards with vocabulary words and processes associated with the nitrogen cycle written on them
  • Dry-erase markers
  • Dry-erase boards

Teacher Directions

  1. Prior to this game, make sets of cards with vocabulary words and processes associated with the nitrogen cycle written on them. For example, you could write cards with the words 'bacteria,' 'denitrification,' 'ammonium,' etc.
  2. Show students a diagram of the nitrogen cycle and discuss the processes and important terms associated with the cycle.
  3. Use sticky notes to cover up the words on the diagram. Have the class figure out what processes/terms should be used to fill out the diagram.
  4. Divide the class into teams.
  5. Give each team a dry-erase board, dry-erase markers, and a set of the cards you made.
  6. For each round, you will give the teams one minute to have one team member select a card and draw a picture on the dry-erase board of the word. Meanwhile, the other students on their team will try to guess the term or process the picture is showing.
  7. Any team that correctly guesses their word before the minute is up gets five points. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the most complicated process in the whole nitrogen cycle? Why?
  • What is the difference between nitrates, nitrites, and ammonium? Why are they important to the nitrogen cycle?

Pin the Process on the Cycle

Engage students in a 'pin the tail on the donkey' style game where team members help each other put together a chart of the nitrogen cycle.

Materials

  • Diagram of nitrogen cycle, cut into pieces
  • Large copies of a nitrogen cycle diagram (with the names of the processes left blank)
  • Tape
  • Blindfolds
  • Sets of cards with the processes of the nitrogen cycle written on them

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